Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving and Sweet Potato Biscuits

I love Thanksgiving. It is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. It has everything that makes me happy: food, family, conversation, stories, and did I say food? For the last fifteen years or so I have been the family's Thanksgiving hostess and the menu rarely varies--if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Turkey, cornbread dressing with lots of bacon drippings, homemade whole berry cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin and berry pies, caramel cake, boiled custard and our family favorite: sweet potato biscuits.

This year on the proper Thanksgiving Day, Charlie and I will be visiting his son in Ireland. It will be a whirlwind trip with us leaving on Tuesday and coming home on Sunday but these were the only few days off we could manage during this fall semester while Jacob is studying in Dublin.

Unwilling to give up the feast, we designated today as Thanksgiving Day in our house and as an added bonus--it's my mom's 75th birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom.

Yesterday, morning I was up early starting the dough for the sweet potato biscuits and as I assembled the ingredients on the kitchen counter, my computer beeped in the other room telling me that I had an instant message. Quickly looking at the clock I realized that it could only be Sara, who six hours ahead of us in the Balkans might be awake when it was 6 a.m. in Maine. It was Sara, indeed, so I set the computer on the counter and chatted with her while I made the biscuits. It wasn't quite as good as having her on the stool, chin in her hands, talking to me about her dreams of going into the Peace Corps like she did last year while I made the biscuits but it was pretty darn good. I'll take it.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
3 large sweet potatoes
3 packages active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
7-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups shortening.
Cook, peel and mash sweet potatoes or use two large cans of sweet potatoes and mash
Combine yeast and warm water and let stand 5 minutes
Combine flour and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl; cut in shortening with a pastry blender or fork until mixture is crumbly. Add yeast mixture, and sweet potatoes, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to greast top; cover and let rise.
Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness; cut with a 2 inch round cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The ice is coming in, Beaver Family

The ice is starting to close in the beaver's pond and they seem to be ready for it. Their two lodges look sturdy and there are enough freshly cut tree trunks in the vicinity to indicate that they have stored plenty of food for the winter.

Their dam is finished and the ice should make it stronger. The dam has raised the water level about three feet.

If I could be any animal for 24 hours, I would want to be a beaver. Since I probably won't get my wish I will have to be satisfied with keeping an eye on them all winter. It will be fun to snowshoe out to their lodge in a month or so when the ice is thick.

The ice is already making some beautiful formations both in the dam and in the puddles along the path.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maine Street Monday (oops a day late)--Skowhegan

Skowhegan is the county seat of Somerset County and about an hour north of my home. The district court there is within my work radius and so this morning I was on the road early for an 8:00 docket call. Skowhegan with a population of around 8,000 people is the largest town where I regularly practice.

Skowhegan is located on the Kennebec River and was a favorite fishing spot for the local Abenaki Indians. Skowhegan means watching place.
Eventually the Abenackis gave way to the settlers and industrialists and the powerful Kennebec River went from providing fish to providing energy to power textile mills, lumber mills and paper mills. Now, the mills are mostly idle and much of the population has disappeared as the Abenackis did a century before.

Some of my favorite fun facts about Skowhegan (other than the fun of saying the word) include that it was the home of Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman U.S. Senator and that it hosts the Skowhegan Fair, the country's longest continuously running state fair.

In 2001, Robert Russo won a Pullitzer Prize for writing the novel Empire Falls. The town of Empire Falls was fictional but Skowhegan was used for the setting when HBO filmed the miniseries in 2005.

With all the politicians trying to distance themselves from Wall Street and attach themselves to Main Street, I have decided that for a while anyway (until I get bored with it), I will feature Maine Main Streets on Mondays.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Wronged Princess of Doomsickle Pond--a cautionary tale

Once upon a time in a kingdom not so very far away there was a brilliant and beautiful princess who lived in a castle on a Pond. The castle had been the fortress of the princess' mother but was bequeathed to the princess when the mother decided to move to Florida.

The castle was always brimming over with laughter and joy because the princess, in addition to being brilliant and beautiful, was lots of fun--everyone that she met became her friend and wanted to share in the magical joy twinkling through the princess and the castle. Lurking among the many friends who shared the joy of the princess' love were two nefarious souls who would bring silence to the princess' joy for a time, but I'm getting ahead of my tale.

A year before the princess was to be married to the local boy who won her heart, she traveled to a distant land on a Fulbright grant. Also on the journey was a woman close to the same age as the princess and with whom she shared many common interests including planned weddings the following summer--just weeks apart. We'll just call the new friend the other woman. The princess and the other woman became fast friends and upon returning from their journey, they shared many an occasion in each others' company and in the company of their respective betrotheds.

The following summer the princess and the local boy had a beautiful wedding on the shores of the Pond. The Music Man played his guitar and the scribe pronounced the vows. As the cake was cut, a moose walked majestically through the reception area--"an omen" was the whisper that went through the crowd as the cameras clicked. An omen, indeed.

Just a few weeks later, the vows were broken, the local boy was in the arms of the other woman and the princess' heart was broken.

But that's not the end of the tale.

The local boy did not stop at breaking the princess' heart--he thought that the castle should be his. While still in the enthralls of the other woman, he made many attempts to claim the castle and all that the princess had possessed before she ever was his bride.

As time went by and the local boy kept hurling his poison arrows and sending Trojan horses, something happened to the princess. She remained brilliant and beautiful but as her heart mended, her strength increased. She became strong enough to withstand the poison arrows and to foresee the Trojan horses. Her sparkling joy still lit up a room but it held a more lasting light.

Finally, the scribe helped the princess undo what had been done and without a doubt, she will live happily ever after.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Friends

You know how on the top of blog pages there is a link that says Next Blog? Well, one day last winter, while on the phone for a meeting that was not holding my attention I was idly clicking the Next Blog button on my computer.

Some of the blogs were in languages that I couldn't understand, but I did take time to look at the pictures and others were in languages that I could understand yet was afraid to look at the pictures. In all the clicking and perusing that day, one blog caught my interest with the header picture and totally captivated me with the writing. I could not wait for my telephone conference to be finished so that I could spend some quality time avoiding work and reading through the posts on Crumbs from the Corner. Since that day, I am always happy to see what The Elementary has posted and it is always a treat.

Charlie and I traveled to southern New England this weekend to visit his oldest son and on the way home we met The Elementary and Spouse at a Cracker Barrel. The hour and a half that we were able to spend visiting was not even close to long enough. Have you ever felt like you have known someone forever and actually you had never met?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Thirty three years ago today, the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald went down in the waters of Lake Superior during a massive November storm. The ship had battled through the storm all day and was only 17 miles from the entrance of Whitefish Bay when it sank with 29 crew on board.

I remember reading about the tragedy in the newspaper and then in the following year, Gordon Lightfoot did what folksong writers have always done. He passed history down through words and music so that the story would never be forgotten.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconson
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed, 'til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fox on the Run

Other discriminating minds may disagree, but to me the sexiest Disney character is definitely Robin Hood the Fox. I know women who think the distinction belongs to the Beast or Aladin or even Tramp, but my heart has belonged to Robin Hood the Fox since 1973.

Foxes make me smile.

So imagine my distress when I read an article about a woman jogger in Arizona who was attacked by a fox while out for a run. The fox initially latched on to her foot and started working its way up to her knee. She pulled it off her leg and then it chomped into her arm. She tried choking the fox to get it to let go. Unsuccessful at freeing herself from the fox and realizing that it needed to be tested for rabies she ran one mile back to her car with the fox attached to her arm. Once she got to her car, she pried the fox's jaws open, threw the fox in the trunk and drove herself to the medical center. It tested positive for rabies.

I don't think I'm going to smile so much when I see one darting through the woods ahead of me now.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Economic Stimulus?

I'm really trying hard not to spend money right now--but I'm not really very good at not spending money. I was in the big town of Augusta and went into Eastern Mountain Sports to buy Archie some climbing chalk and this guy greets me at the door and said "Did you know about our sale?" "No, but please do tell me about it."

Twenty percent off everything, forty percent off other items and forty percent off of the forty percent off on yet other items using some confusing mathematical formula that comes into play on items with a yellow tag.

I started out with good intentions and found Charlie two pairs of pants. Then I saw the wall with shoes on it. I am constantly searching for foot comfort and always find solid, sturdy, long-lived, fairly unattractive shoes at EMS. Today was no exception. Two pairs later I'm having a little bit of buyer's regret but mostly enjoying the feeling of a new pair of Keen shoes on my feet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Personal Responsibility

For the last several years, the only criminal work that I have done has involved juvenile defense. Most of my other work involves representing children who are the subjects of child protection cases. I do a few other things when they happen by such as deeds, wills, bankruptcies and from time to time I will represent a parent in a child protection case but most of my work, and the part that gives me the most personal satisfaction, involves representing kids.

The thing that I like about representing kids--especially in Maine where their criminal acts are fairly minor and mostly a cry for help--is that the criminal code is written for the purpose of rehabilitation. The Juvenile Criminal Code clearly lays out it's purpose and the first two items are:

To secure for each juvenile subject to these provisions such care and guidance, preferably in the juvenile's own home, as will best serve the juvenile's welfare and the interests of society; To preserve and strengthen family ties whenever possible, including improvement of home environment.
Personally, those are my purposes in every encounter that I have with a young person so
working with them in the context of the criminal system is an easy extension of my beliefs.

Yesterday, I traveled north to Charleston and the Mountain View Youth Development Center. Despite the euphemism, Mountain View is a kiddie jail. It does have a striking view of the mountains in Baxter State Park and it does look on the outside like a high school but the athletic fields are surrounded by high fencing and the doors are heavy and locked and I had to surrender all of my personal belongings at the front desk before being escorted into the visit room to meet with one of my young people. He shuffled in to see me, head down but anxious--"What are you doing to get me out?" he asked at first boldly and then tearfully, My reply was consistent, "What are you going to do to help me convince a judge to let you out?" For over an hour we had that conversation. I presented him with options that required his cooperation and some acceptance of responsibility. He kept repeating, "I just want to go home." "It wasn't my fault."

There are two parts of the youth development center. The first is for kids who have not yet been adjudicated (my client) or for kids that need a "shock sentence"--a few days or more just to scare the heck out of them--the other is for kids who have been committed until age 18 to the facility by a Judge. My client is tenuously poised on the edge of being committed. For more than two years he has been a regular in the courtroom--never for anything serious but consistently for the same type of behavior--all of which stem from not taking responsibility for his actions.

Yesterday, his part of the conversation contained minor variations of the "it's not my fault" theme repeated ad nauseum and peppered with the clear statement that he did not want to be committed. Finally, I said--"You know, probably most of the kids who have been committed will tell you that the reason they are here is someone else's fault" I told him that everyone that would be in the courtroom for his hearing in two weeks would be looking for a reason to send him home and he could ride home on the bus called personal responsibility. By then, his head was down on the table and he was crying. Once more, I told him, "You cannot control other people's actions but you can control your reaction to other people's actions. You are ultimately responsible for what your hands do, what your mouth does, where your feet take you. So, be a man, suck it up and decide to be in charge of your own life."

He's got two weeks to figure it out before I have to try and persuade a Judge to send him home.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blessings of Liberty

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
Preamble, Constitution of the United States.

Charlie and I walked down to the American Legion Hall and voted this afternoon. It was a beautiful autumn day in Maine--no mittens, hats or neck warmers--a fine day in New England.

We saw our friends and neighbors coming and going from the old building that hosts rolicking Bingo parties on Friday and Saturday nights but today harbors the bedrock of our democracy.

I was able to vote for three people who I consider friends as well as a U.S. Senator whose brother shared an after-ski-race chicken stew with us a couple of years ago. As we walked home sipping a celebratory cup of Green Mountain coffee to keep us up for the returns, a Bald Eagle soared overhead looking for fish in the river and reminding us of our liberty.

When I was a child, I do not think that I could imagine that my grown up world would contain a presidential ballot with gender and racial diversity nor could I imagine that Bald Eagles would fly again over the rivers of the United States.

November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Maine Street Monday--Livermore Falls

Downstream on the Androscoggin River is a town called Livermore Falls. Like a lot of towns in Maine, Livermore Falls has seen better days and like many towns in Maine, in its heyday there were mills for converting our wealth of timber into paper and lumber.

Today there is a small lumber mill, a lot of empty store fronts and a lot of run-down apartments. When I first started practicing law in Maine ten years ago, the courthouse was open every Wednesday and I was in town weekly. Since then the court has closed and the filings have been moved to the large courthouse in Auburn.

The river dominates the town dividing it from the seemingly more prosperous and rural town of Livermore. There is still a big papermill upstream from Livermore Falls in the town of Jay and probably the lucky ones in town still work there. The Jay papermill was owned by International Paper, now it is owned by Verso Paper. There have been layoffs and shutdowns over the last few years and there is always the fear of more.

One of my favorite political signs was posted in a window in an empty building block. The sign says "Impeach Ignorance". I'm not even really sure what that means but it sounds good. The person whose sign the vote encourages is a Republican running for Congress in the Second District. Interestingly, a debate between the candidates was being replayed on Maine Public Radio as I drove through town. It was highly entertaining, but I still don't understand the sign.

Kathie used to live in Livermore Falls--maybe she can share some of her memories.

With all the politicians trying to distance themselves from Wall Street and attach themselves to Main Street, I have decided that for a while anyway (until I get bored with it), I will feature Maine Main Streets on Mondays.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

There's mac and cheese in my cupboard again

Yesterday, Archie and I drove back from Pennsylvania. It was a much more companionable experience than the drive to the airport in June when I put him on a plane. Over the 570 miles, we said a lot of the things that had hung heavy in the silence on that other day.

It's mighty good to have him home, the nest wasn't really ready to be emptied. We have a senior year to enjoy around here!

When I got to State College on Halloween Night, Ethan and Ann were just heading to a Halloween party. Ann looked just like Shakira and Ethan was that crazy guy from Dodge Ball.

They are two mighty special young people--newlyweds--a grad student and an engineer who opened up their home and their lives to give someone they loved something he needed.

When Ann told me she was Shakira--uncool person that I am, I thought that Shakira was a superhero--maybe Shakira isn't a superhero, but Ann sure is and so is Ethan.

Thank you.